A Call from Strasbourg
As we entered our second year in Turin, I found myself offering advice to fellow international mothers, based on my own experiences. Some newer arrivals had children who were younger than mine and were just beginning to learn Italian. I began to realize that facing challenges in our first year equipped us with valuable perspectives and experience.
Often, these new friends would be in the same boat that my own family was in: we moved to Italy with our spouses and children, with very-little-to-no Italian language skills. In my family’s case there was no employer on the ground to watch out for us, facilitate our move, nor provide support for settling-in, in any way. Many of us did not have a pre-existing community to join, the way that some people do. This sense of solitude taught me a lot about the value of the work that I once did as a college administrator in the field of international education. For eight years my colleagues and I dedicated ourselves to creating a “home away from home” for hundreds of international students. In Turin, we knew that we would have to create that for ourselves.
In truth, for the first year I made an effort to be absorbed into the city; intentionally not reaching out to the local organization for international (mainly English-speaking) women. It was part of my intention to draw myself inward. I found a degree of freedom in not being the same outgoing, fluent, cheerful person I had been — or sometimes felt I had to be — back in California. I was grateful for the anonymity afforded to me, but there was a true cost in not reaching out to fellow non-Italians, who could have helped my family and I navigate these new waters.
The “waters” that we had to navigate did not turn into dry land at the threshold of our apartment. The challenges of our new city — in the kids’ new classrooms, on the very confusing driving lanes that caused so many traffic tickets, on the soccer field, at la questura (think: Social Security Office) — existed within our apartment as well. Our beautiful home did serve as a refuge, but only to a certain extent. We, as a family, had to learn a new way to be in Turin. We had to reformulate our family’s dynamic and learn to create refuge for one another, as each of us struggled to find new footing.
I distinctly remember the first time that I recognized the loneliness that I felt soon after we had finally settled-into our apartment in Turin. I felt the sharp absence of a friend who could understand both me — Jessica, and all of my points of reference — and what I was experiencing in this new place — not only as an individual — but as a parent responsible for the decision of moving abroad and all that the move entailed. Today, back on my “home-turf” I try to extend a hand or an ear to families who are supporting their own children’s adjustment. I also value my friendships more than I ever have before.
The catalyst for me to start the Writing in Turin collection was a video call with a fellow-American mom who had recently moved to Strasbourg, France. Heather called me up after a mutual friend had put us in touch to discuss children, culture shock, and adjustment in a new country. I had finished my journey a year and a half prior (in 2020), while Heather was just beginning hers. Heather’s children are very close to the ages that my children had been during our time abroad. Within the first minute of our chat, we could see that each had a deep understanding of the other’s experience. We were two mothers who shared the same wild idea of voluntarily packing up their family’s life in the U.S. and moving to Europe. We both knew the full weight of that reality.
This ninety-minute conversation took me back to Turin. It was important for me to share both the peaks and the valleys of our Italian adventure. Over the next couple of days I reached back into my memory, consulted my husband and children on their perspectives; compiled my thoughts into obscenely-long text messages, and sent them to Heather. Her positive reception of my messages gave me the encouragement that I needed to expand on each theme, and to weave them into the story of my family’s time in Turin.
The act of considering what helpful information I could share with Heather brought to mind how easy it is for me to assimilate the lessons — the knowledge and behaviors — that I have learned. Moving on to new phases of parenting — as parenting demands — it is easy to forget that these lessons were hard-won. By returning to them in these pages, I hope readers will find both insight and humor.
Corresponding with Heather and organizing my ideas and advice for a mom who is in “the thick of it” — I realized that I needed distance, time, and a reason — a specific person — to write these words for. I seemed to have finally found one of the keys I needed to truly start writing about Turin.
The Writing in Turin collection will be updated on Thursdays and Mondays. Thank you for reading; I hope you’ll be back!
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